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Pre Conquest Night's Watch - purely Northen affair?

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Was the Wall and the NW a purely Northern concern in the Waring Kingdoms period?

Did the Kingdoms south of the Neck care about the NW?

I know that Nymeria sent defeated Dornish reguli to the Wall - but apart from that, did the South support the NW?

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I think we need to distinguish between manning the Watch, and resourcing it. I think recruits for the Watch came from all over the Realm - defeated armies, deposed lords, unwanted heirs and criminals from all Seven Kingdoms. Maybe with some token resource support when they arrived. 

But the long term logistical support of the Watch came from the Northern lords, and from the lands farmed by the Watch itself. I doubt the South expended much wealth sending food and riches to the distant exile colony at the end of the World. Logistically, I don't know how feasible it was in any case, sending livestock, food and the like on 3000 mile ocean voyages in large quantities.

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We know that the Night's Watch slowly declined. Considering that even Dorne cared to support it during Nymeria's days - and that a Qorgyle Lord Commander was the immediate predecessor of the Old Bear - it is pretty clear that it was an institution that had roots in all the Seven Kingdoms. They would have been deepest in the North, of course, but one assumes that there were times, especially in the earlier centuries before the Conquest, when volunteers from all across the Seven Kingdoms took the black.

What ruined the NW is not so much a lack of support from the institutions - the Starks and Targaryens did a lot for them throughout the years - but the unwillingness of the (young) men of the Seven Kingdoms to actually volunteer for the Watch.

You cannot force anyone to take the black. It is something a man has to commit himself to do. Even those criminals don't have to go to the Wall. They are given a choice - suffer the punishment for their crime they committed (which may or may not be death) or to take the black 'of their own free will'. In a sense, that isn't a choice, but the fact that most recruits end up at the Wall that way makes it clear that the idea of taking the black is an idea only very few men honestly consider throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

And that includes the North. We don't see many young recruits from the North at the Wall. There are no younger sons from Northern houses training alongside Jon and Sam. The Old Bear only took the black in old age, when his life was pretty much over. Mors and Hother Umber show no inclination of following Mormont's example, and neither do Arnolf Karstark and his sons (who are also not exactly youngster anymore).

Even Benjen Stark had to hear a wandering crow make his plea at Harrenhal to decide to take the black. It wasn't a Stark family tradition that the youngest son take the black. At least not anymore.

You can compare the whole thing to dying of monasteries and other religious orders in our present day and age. The benefits of that kind of life don't outweigh the disadvantages of a celibate lifestyle and of obedience to the superiors of your order.

Life at the Wall is not only hard and bleak, due to it being so far up north and due to the fact that you can't have a wife, family, lands, and glory, but it is also rather pointless considering that pretty much nobody in the Seven Kingdoms - not even the Northmen - continue to believe in the Others. In addition, you also permanently separated from the people you love.

If you see any other option to make a career for yourself you pursue that. If you become a septon or maester you are also barred from marriage, but you can at least visit - or perhaps even be close - to the people you love. And as a tourney knight, freerider, etc. you can also pay more than just rare visits. And even commoners have other career paths open for them. Become a craftsman, peasant, merchant, trader, sailor, etc. Go to one of the cities and make yourself a proper life there.

Life at the Wall just sucks. And people know that. And that's why the Watch is dying.

3 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

But the long term logistical support of the Watch came from the Northern lords, and from the lands farmed by the Watch itself. I doubt the South expended much wealth sending food and riches to the distant exile colony at the end of the World. Logistically, I don't know how feasible it was in any case, sending livestock, food and the like on 3000 mile ocean voyages in large quantities.

I think those lemons and oranges and other fruits from Dorne could be sent up the coast via ship. As could other things from the Stormlands, and the Vale, and perhaps even Oldtown. Whether it makes sense to assume the Iron Islands, or Westerlands sent any shipments of food to the Wall I don't know. Probably not. But they - and also all the other kingdoms - could have sent various other goods needed. Clothes, furs, weapons, armor, horses, etc.

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

We know that the Night's Watch slowly declined. Considering that even Dorne cared to support it during Nymeria's days - and that a Qorgyle Lord Commander was the immediate predecessor of the Old Bear - it is pretty clear that it was an institution that had roots in all the Seven Kingdoms. They would have been deepest in the North, of course, but one assumes that there were times, especially in the earlier centuries before the Conquest, when volunteers from all across the Seven Kingdoms took the black.

What ruined the NW is not so much a lack of support from the institutions - the Starks and Targaryens did a lot for them throughout the years - but the unwillingness of the (young) men of the Seven Kingdoms to actually volunteer for the Watch.

You cannot force anyone to take the black. It is something a man has to commit himself to do. Even those criminals don't have to go to the Wall. They are given a choice - suffer the punishment for their crime they committed (which may or may not be death) or to take the black 'of their own free will'. In a sense, that isn't a choice, but the fact that most recruits end up at the Wall that way makes it clear that the idea of taking the black is an idea only very few men honestly consider throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

And that includes the North. We don't see many young recruits from the North at the Wall. There are no younger sons from Northern houses training alongside Jon and Sam. The Old Bear only took the black in old age, when his life was pretty much over. Mors and Hother Umber show no inclination of following Mormont's example, and neither do Arnolf Karstark and his sons (who are also not exactly youngster anymore).

Even Benjen Stark had to hear a wandering crow make his plea at Harrenhal to decide to take the black. It wasn't a Stark family tradition that the youngest son take the black. At least not anymore.

You can compare the whole thing to dying of monasteries and other religious orders in our present day and age. The benefits of that kind of life don't outweigh the disadvantages of a celibate lifestyle and of obedience to the superiors of your order.

Life at the Wall is not only hard and bleak, due to it being so far up north and due to the fact that you can't have a wife, family, lands, and glory, but it is also rather pointless considering that pretty much nobody in the Seven Kingdoms - not even the Northmen - continue to believe in the Others. In addition, you also permanently separated from the people you love.

If you see any other option to make a career for yourself you pursue that. If you become a septon or maester you are also barred from marriage, but you can at least visit - or perhaps even be close - to the people you love. And as a tourney knight, freerider, etc. you can also pay more than just rare visits. And even commoners have other career paths open for them. Become a craftsman, peasant, merchant, trader, sailor, etc. Go to one of the cities and make yourself a proper life there.

Life at the Wall just sucks. And people know that. And that's why the Watch is dying.

I think those lemons and oranges and other fruits from Dorne could be sent up the coast via ship. As could other things from the Stormlands, and the Vale, and perhaps even Oldtown. Whether it makes sense to assume the Iron Islands, or Westerlands sent any shipments of food to the Wall I don't know. Probably not. But they - and also all the other kingdoms - could have sent various other goods needed. Clothes, furs, weapons, armor, horses, etc.

Largely agree with all of this. The Watch is a joke. Who in his right mind would join it, considering its ridiculous oaths. You could have a desire to safeguard your homeland (think Northmen here), without wanting to give up your right to have a wife and children for all eternity.

A more sensible approach would have been to have a tour of duty system at the Wall. Send young men up there for 6 months when they turn 21, or some such system. With some senior officers taking up the role as commanders as a career (for pay or in exchange for a knighthood or lands or whatever). And with the ability to resign should they so choose.

No need to give up your life to go and watch over a handful of barbarian raiders.

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

We know that the Night's Watch slowly declined. Considering that even Dorne cared to support it during Nymeria's days - and that a Qorgyle Lord Commander was the immediate predecessor of the Old Bear - it is pretty clear that it was an institution that had roots in all the Seven Kingdoms. They would have been deepest in the North, of course, but one assumes that there were times, especially in the earlier centuries before the Conquest, when volunteers from all across the Seven Kingdoms took the black.

What ruined the NW is not so much a lack of support from the institutions - the Starks and Targaryens did a lot for them throughout the years - but the unwillingness of the (young) men of the Seven Kingdoms to actually volunteer for the Watch.

You cannot force anyone to take the black. It is something a man has to commit himself to do. Even those criminals don't have to go to the Wall. They are given a choice - suffer the punishment for their crime they committed (which may or may not be death) or to take the black 'of their own free will'. In a sense, that isn't a choice, but the fact that most recruits end up at the Wall that way makes it clear that the idea of taking the black is an idea only very few men honestly consider throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

And that includes the North. We don't see many young recruits from the North at the Wall. There are no younger sons from Northern houses training alongside Jon and Sam. The Old Bear only took the black in old age, when his life was pretty much over. Mors and Hother Umber show no inclination of following Mormont's example, and neither do Arnolf Karstark and his sons (who are also not exactly youngster anymore).

Even Benjen Stark had to hear a wandering crow make his plea at Harrenhal to decide to take the black. It wasn't a Stark family tradition that the youngest son take the black. At least not anymore.

You can compare the whole thing to dying of monasteries and other religious orders in our present day and age. The benefits of that kind of life don't outweigh the disadvantages of a celibate lifestyle and of obedience to the superiors of your order.

Life at the Wall is not only hard and bleak, due to it being so far up north and due to the fact that you can't have a wife, family, lands, and glory, but it is also rather pointless considering that pretty much nobody in the Seven Kingdoms - not even the Northmen - continue to believe in the Others. In addition, you also permanently separated from the people you love.

If you see any other option to make a career for yourself you pursue that. If you become a septon or maester you are also barred from marriage, but you can at least visit - or perhaps even be close - to the people you love. And as a tourney knight, freerider, etc. you can also pay more than just rare visits. And even commoners have other career paths open for them. Become a craftsman, peasant, merchant, trader, sailor, etc. Go to one of the cities and make yourself a proper life there.

Life at the Wall just sucks. And people know that. And that's why the Watch is dying.

I think those lemons and oranges and other fruits from Dorne could be sent up the coast via ship. As could other things from the Stormlands, and the Vale, and perhaps even Oldtown. Whether it makes sense to assume the Iron Islands, or Westerlands sent any shipments of food to the Wall I don't know. Probably not. But they - and also all the other kingdoms - could have sent various other goods needed. Clothes, furs, weapons, armor, horses, etc.

Yeah, the only Lords son we hear of joining the NW is young Waymar Royce and he's from the Vale. When people stopped believing the Wall was important or they stopped seeing the NW as a place to serve with honor. It started the slow death of the NW, the NW we see now. The conquest didn't help either.

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15 minutes ago, Daemon The Black Dragon said:

Yeah, the only Lords son we hear of joining the NW is young Waymar Royce and he's from the Vale. When people stopped believing the Wall was important or they stopped seeing the NW as a place to serve with honor. It started the slow death of the NW, the NW we see now. The conquest didn't help either.

Sorry, but this does not fit the timeline. There was no slow decline of the Watch. It had  more than 10,000 men for 7700 years and then it suddenly dropped to 1000 men in the last 300 years.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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Okay, take out my slow death part then. The rest still fits, as one of the reasons why the NW declined.

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39 minutes ago, Daemon The Black Dragon said:

Okay, take out my slow death part then. The rest still fits, as one of the reasons why the NW declined.

Yeah sorry. Didnt mean to disagree with your post as such. Just to counter the generally held view of a slow decline. It was in fact a very sudden decline.

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1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Largely agree with all of this. The Watch is a joke. Who in his right mind would join it, considering its ridiculous oaths. You could have a desire to safeguard your homeland (think Northmen here), without wanting to give up your right to have a wife and children for all eternity.

A more sensible approach would have been to have a tour of duty system at the Wall. Send young men up there for 6 months when they turn 21, or some such system. With some senior officers taking up the role as commanders as a career (for pay or in exchange for a knighthood or lands or whatever). And with the ability to resign should they so choose.

No need to give up your life to go and watch over a handful of barbarian raiders.

But that's the thing. It was conceived essentially as some sort of quasi-religious military order protecting all of mankind. The task the Night's Watch did was of the utmost importance for everyone, which is why and how the Hundred Kingdoms could forge it. It was seen as the highest calling imaginable for any young man for most of the older history of Westeros. That changed in modern times, though.

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Sorry, but this does not fit the timeline. There was no slow decline of the Watch. It had  more than 10,000 men for 7700 years and then it suddenly dropped to 1000 men in the last 300 years.

We don't know how the 10,000 men around the Conquest compare to the NW in earlier days. The NW could have 50,000 or 100,000 men when they were at the peak of their power. They were closing down castles even around the time of Aegon I and Jaehaerys I. That indicates that they must have much more men when the NW was really thriving.

Note the fact that there was a time when the Lord Commanders could actually build the Wall ever higher, and did so for centuries or even millennia. That thing didn't get as high and powerful as it is overnight. 

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There was more stability after the Andals appeared, that's when the number of Kingdoms started dwindling to 7, before that a lot more, and a lot more fighting and a lot more fairly honourable men choosing to head to the Watch.

So, they took a hit when the Andal's arrived and then a decline as the realm kind of stabilized, then a bit of an uptick when Aegon came and sent a lot of men to the Wall, but after that, a very quick decline as now there were far fewer wars, and of those major wars that happened the defeated mostly were not given a choice to go to the Wall or just outright perished when the Dragons were around.

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

But that's the thing. It was conceived essentially as some sort of quasi-religious military order protecting all of mankind. The task the Night's Watch did was of the utmost importance for everyone, which is why and how the Hundred Kingdoms could forge it. It was seen as the highest calling imaginable for any young man for most of the older history of Westeros. That changed in modern times, though.

We don't know how the 10,000 men around the Conquest compare to the NW in earlier days. The NW could have 50,000 or 100,000 men when they were at the peak of their power. They were closing down castles even around the time of Aegon I and Jaehaerys I. That indicates that they must have much more men when the NW was really thriving.

Note the fact that there was a time when the Lord Commanders could actually build the Wall ever higher, and did so for centuries or even millennia. That thing didn't get as high and powerful as it is overnight. 

Yeah about that. I have serious doubts about the logistical capability of primitive Westeros sustaining a 30,000 strong standing army on its far northern border for millenia on end.

Consider that today the arrival of the Manderlys 1000 years ago is such a distant event that there is not even agreement on when exactly it happened, despite the existence of written records from the time. Considering that the Others were last seen 8,000 years ago, I have doubts whether the people living even 7000 years ago would have concrete memories of them.

Maintaining 30,000 men at the Wall to guard against a band of wildlings who could not even raise a third that number of warriors seems utterly unrealistic. Numbers like 100,000 men on the Wall don't even bear thinking about. 10,000 seems like pretty much the largest number that could seriously have existed for most of history. Unless the Others appeared every generation or so to remind everyone of their existence.

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2 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Largely agree with all of this. The Watch is a joke. Who in his right mind would join it, considering its ridiculous oaths. You could have a desire to safeguard your homeland (think Northmen here), without wanting to give up your right to have a wife and children for all eternity.

A more sensible approach would have been to have a tour of duty system at the Wall. Send young men up there for 6 months when they turn 21, or some such system. With some senior officers taking up the role as commanders as a career (for pay or in exchange for a knighthood or lands or whatever). And with the ability to resign should they so choose.

No need to give up your life to go and watch over a handful of barbarian raiders.

Nobility may have done that in the past, at least from what we see in Tyrion's experience, and this is a southron visiting the Wall as it was the Niagara falls. I do believe that those highborn who joined the Watch voluntarily (more as Jeor Mormont than Jaremy Rykker, mind you) had some knowledge of its hardships and culture before packing up and leaving for Castle Black. 

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1 minute ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Yeah about that. I have serious doubts about the logistical capability of primitive Westeros sustaining a 30,000 strong standing army on its far northern border for millenia on end.

Consider that today the arrival of the Manderlys 1000 years ago is such a distant event that there is not even agreement on when exactly it happened, despite the existence of written records from the time. Considering that the Others were last seen 8,000 years ago, I have doubts whether the people living even 7000 years ago would have concrete memories of them.

Maintaining 30,000 men at the Wall to guard against a band of wildlings who could not even raise a third that number of warriors seems utterly unrealistic. Numbers like 100,000 men on the Wall don't even bear thinking about. 10,000 seems like pretty much the largest number that could seriously have existed for most of history. Unless the Others appeared every generation or so to remind everyone of their existence.

Your opinion on that isn't all that relevant. The point is that we don't know. And that we have no idea how many men were necessary to build or maintain a structure this size, and man it the way it was when this was really functioning and effective border garrison.

About 1,000 men mean there are is ten men for every league of Wall, right? That means 10,000 men were 100 men for every league, and that only if all the brothers actually manned the Wall, not just the rangers. That doesn't sound like an effective border garrison against the Others to me. We hear about the Watch being able to cut keep the Haunted Forest at bay along the entire Wall, not just where the castles are. We hear about the Wall rising ever higher under each Lord Commander. We have the Wall itself - a ridiculously huge structure.

100,000 men at the Wall could technically put up 1,000 men on the Wall per league, and that is the kind of strength one would need if one would actually want throw back vast army of wights and Others fighting with those ice spiders and other monstrous creatures. If the Others have the power to climb the Wall then the Watch would have to have men everywhere on top of it as well as the means to actually attack those or else the entire enterprise is futile.

And I'm pretty sure the men who founded the Watch knew that.

The Watch was an institution created by people who very much believed in the Others and who had the ability and determination create unity in that institution when there was no unity anywhere else in their lives. Those people were constantly butchering each other, ever expanding their little petty kingdoms.

But they could also build and maintain that Wall and the Watch for thousands of years. That shows they had a broad societal consensus that the Night's Watch was essentially holy, and everybody agreed on the rules and traditions governing that august body. And it was deeply rooted in the society that it was an honor and noble calling to go to the Wall, to help and support the Watch, etc. It is quite clear that the real purpose of the Watch was to protect mankind against the Others. And it is not unlikely that the terror of the Long Night was passed down through the generations for a long time, with the stories of that only disappearing in rather recent time with economic prosperity under the Targaryens and the spread of the Citadel-shaped world view by the maesters (the latter most likely only gradually rose to the prominence they have today in the last thousand years or so - they were already everywhere during the Conquest).

Whether it is realistic that this would have been done in a world where the Others never showed their faces is irrelevant. It did happen, or else there wouldn't be Night's Watch or a Wall in the series we are reading.

And it is nowhere certain it was that official 8,000 years period. It could be half of that or something of that sort. The lists of the Lord Commanders allow us to take the whole thing with more than just a grain of salt.

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25 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Your opinion on that isn't all that relevant. The point is that we don't know. And that we have no idea how many men were necessary to build or maintain a structure this size, and man it the way it was when this was really functioning and effective border garrison.

About 1,000 men mean there are is ten men for every league of Wall, right? That means 10,000 men were 100 men for every league, and that only if all the brothers actually manned the Wall, not just the rangers. That doesn't sound like an effective border garrison against the Others to me. We hear about the Watch being able to cut keep the Haunted Forest at bay along the entire Wall, not just where the castles are. We hear about the Wall rising ever higher under each Lord Commander. We have the Wall itself - a ridiculously huge structure.

100,000 men at the Wall could technically put up 1,000 men on the Wall per league, and that is the kind of strength one would need if one would actually want throw back vast army of wights and Others fighting with those ice spiders and other monstrous creatures. If the Others have the power to climb the Wall then the Watch would have to have men everywhere on top of it as well as the means to actually attack those or else the entire enterprise is futile.

And I'm pretty sure the men who founded the Watch knew that.

The Watch was an institution created by people who very much believed in the Others and who had the ability and determination create unity in that institution when there was no unity anywhere else in their lives. Those people were constantly butchering each other, ever expanding their little petty kingdoms.

But they could also build and maintain that Wall and the Watch for thousands of years. That shows they had a broad societal consensus that the Night's Watch was essentially holy, and everybody agreed on the rules and traditions governing that august body. And it was deeply rooted in the society that it was an honor and noble calling to go to the Wall, to help and support the Watch, etc. It is quite clear that the real purpose of the Watch was to protect mankind against the Others. And it is not unlikely that the terror of the Long Night was passed down through the generations for a long time, with the stories of that only disappearing in rather recent time with economic prosperity under the Targaryens and the spread of the Citadel-shaped world view by the maesters (the latter most likely only gradually rose to the prominence they have today in the last thousand years or so - they were already everywhere during the Conquest).

Whether it is realistic that this would have been done in a world where the Others never showed their faces is irrelevant. It did happen, or else there wouldn't be Night's Watch or a Wall in the series we are reading.

And it is nowhere certain it was that official 8,000 years period. It could be half of that or something of that sort. The lists of the Lord Commanders allow us to take the whole thing with more than just a grain of salt.

I take it the irony is intentional? That my opinoin isn't all that relevant but yours is?

Nowhere is it stated that 10,000 wasn't the long term standing strength of the Watch for thousands of years. It is your own interpretation that it used to be more than that. Nothing more.

An Other hasn't been seen according to our knowledge since the Long Night. Even the Night's King episode is not linked with Others appearing with armies of the dead to assault the Wall. Just with some weird cult he started amongst his own brothers.

Imagine for a moment the Wall 1000 years after the Long Night. With not an Other having been sighted for a thousand years. And you think there were 30,000 or 100,000 men manning this already impenetrable fortress on a permanent basis? Do you realize the logistical cost of maintaining such a force year on year, century on century, through Winters and Summers?

Your calculation of how many men it would take to maintain the Wall or keep the Forest from encroaching is sucked out of your thumb. A force of 3,000 builders (a third of 10,000) labouring on a permanent basis is going to get through a lot of work in a decade, two decades, a hundred decades etc.

Frankly, I think one weakness of Martin's setting is the lack of regular appearances by the Others. That would have explained the continued maintenance of the Wall and manning of the Night's Watch far more realistically. Like the Blight in WoT, Trollocs were a permanent threat north of the borderlands. Not something last seen in the Trolloc Wars, let alone the War of Power. Same with Orcs in LotR.

The wildlings simply aren't a threat worthy of justifying a continued strong Watch. Today's Watch should have been the result thousands of years ago already, in the absence of recurring Others invasions.

 

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I take it the irony is intentional? That my opinoin isn't all that relevant but yours is?

Well, yeah, because you take those 10,000 men and declare them to be the peak of the strength of the Watch when nothing points in the direction that this was the case.

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Nowhere is it stated that 10,000 wasn't the long term standing strength of the Watch for thousands of years. It is your own interpretation that it used to be more than that. Nothing more.

I didn't give any numbers, I speculated that there (most likely) were more than 10,000 men in the Watch at the peak of its power. Which very well could have been shorty after its founding, when the Wall was actually built. Back then more than half of the male population of the Hundred Kingdoms could have been in the Night's Watch.

The Others were an existential threat that was taken very, very seriously.

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Imagine for a moment the Wall 1000 years after the Long Night. With not an Other having been sighted for a thousand years. And you think there were 30,000 or 100,000 men manning this already impenetrable fortress on a permanent basis? Do you realize the logistical cost of maintaining such a force year on year, century on century, through Winters and Summers?

I know that that's difficult to imagine, but you are taking it backwards. For centuries - or even millennia, depending how old the Wall and the Watch actually - the most powerful man in Westeros wasn't some stupid petty king in Winterfell, Highgarden or Casterly Rock - it was the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. The man who commanded the largest standing military force in the entire continent.

That would have had an effect on how the institution was seen by the people.

It was an institution that was obviously seen as so important and holy that the people gladly supported it, and were perhaps even drawn to the glory and power you could acquire at the Wall. When people were living in wooden castles and stinking hovels and didn't even have iron and steel yet, the Night's Watch must have been a real prospect. Lowborn people and bastards can rise rather high there, and being ruling this or that petty kingdom or lordship would have meant little and less in comparison to command one of the castles at the Wall, or rising to the position of First Ranger or even Lord Commander.

We have only glimpses of the glory of the Night's Watch in the old days, but it is quite clear that 10,000 men in total are only a fraction of the number all the castles would have been able to house it the old days. The Nightfort is much larger than Castle Black, and right now even most of the houses and towers of Castle Black are empty. Those people wouldn't have raised buildings and castle nobody manned.

We know with the Shieldhall that there was a time when the commoners ate in a different hall than the noblemen, indicating that there was a time when there were hundreds of noblemen living and serving at Castle Black - and presumably at all the other castles.

The Seven Kingdoms are vast. If at one point it was a tradition that volunteers from any corner of the Seven Kingdoms took the black - and this was the case, once, just as today criminals from all the Seven Kingdoms are sent to the Wall - then the combined number of those volunteers taking the black in a single generation would add up to a rather high number.

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Your calculation of how many men it would take to maintain the Wall or keep the Forest from encroaching is sucked out of your thumb. A force of 3,000 builders (a third of 10,000) labouring on a permanent basis is going to get through a lot of work in a decade, two decades, a hundred decades etc.

I don't know how much it would take. I didn't give a precise number. But we do know that the 1,000 men the Watch has do a poor job at that. You might also recall that the Watch doesn't even have the resources and men to actually maintain the defenses atop the Wall, right? 

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Frankly, I think one weakness of Martin's setting is the lack of regular appearances by the Others. That would have explained the continued maintenance of the Wall and manning of the Night's Watch far more realistically. Like the Blight in WoT, Trollocs were a permanent threat north of the borderlands. Not something last seen in the Trolloc Wars, let alone the War of Power. Same with Orcs in LotR.

I agree with you about that. But that isn't the point. The point is that it is a fact that Watch survived as an institution for thousands of years and that only makes sense if it was an honored institution for most of the time, and institution that actually thrived more in times when the very idea that anybody would care about - during the Hundred Kingdoms period - maintaining an institution like that.

That makes only sense if the people of the Seven Kingdoms continued to believe in the Others and the threat they posed for most of the history of those kingdoms.

1 hour ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The wildlings simply aren't a threat worthy of justifying a continued strong Watch. Today's Watch should have been the result thousands of years ago already, in the absence of recurring Others invasions.

The wildlings are irrelevant. After the Conquest they might have become somewhat of a pretext for supporting the Watch considering that it was also the Iron Throne's duty to protect the northern borders of the Realm. After all, the wildligns were a real and tangible threat - although not really that much of a deal, under normal circumstances. But their existence certainly helped to justify why the Watch was not simply disbanded. 

But back before the Conquest the King of the Rock or the King of the Vale - especially during his wars with Winterfell - would have had no reason at all to allow his men to volunteer to protect the borders of another king - and his enemy at that - from some mortal brigands. If the people in the Westerlands and the Vale hadn't believed in the existence of the Others and the noble calling of the Night's Watch they simply wouldn't have joined the Watch. They would have stopped doing that millennia ago. 

Vice versa, there would have been no reason why the Starks or Boltons would allow any of their men to join the Watch back in the day the clansmen, Sea Dragon Point, the Umbers, etc. were still independent domains. Wildlings raiding those lands would have helped those kings to subdue and weaken their enemies.

In that sense, the entire Night's Watch thing only makes sense if the people believed in the threat of the Others. And that they did. Else there wouldn't have been either a Wall or a Night's Watch.

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42 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Well, yeah, because you take those 10,000 men and declare them to be the peak of the strength of the Watch when nothing points in the direction that this was the case.

I didn't give any numbers, I speculated that there (most likely) were more than 10,000 men in the Watch at the peak of its power. Which very well could have been shorty after its founding, when the Wall was actually built. Back then more than half of the male population of the Hundred Kingdoms could have been in the Night's Watch.

The Others were an existential threat that was taken very, very seriously.

I know that that's difficult to imagine, but you are taking it backwards. For centuries - or even millennia, depending how old the Wall and the Watch actually - the most powerful man in Westeros wasn't some stupid petty king in Winterfell, Highgarden or Casterly Rock - it was the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. The man who commanded the largest standing military force in the entire continent.

That would have had an effect on how the institution was seen by the people.

It was an institution that was obviously seen as so important and holy that the people gladly supported it, and were perhaps even drawn to the glory and power you could acquire at the Wall. When people were living in wooden castles and stinking hovels and didn't even have iron and steel yet, the Night's Watch must have been a real prospect. Lowborn people and bastards can rise rather high there, and being ruling this or that petty kingdom or lordship would have meant little and less in comparison to command one of the castles at the Wall, or rising to the position of First Ranger or even Lord Commander.

We have only glimpses of the glory of the Night's Watch in the old days, but it is quite clear that 10,000 men in total are only a fraction of the number all the castles would have been able to house it the old days. The Nightfort is much larger than Castle Black, and right now even most of the houses and towers of Castle Black are empty. Those people wouldn't have raised buildings and castle nobody manned.

We know with the Shieldhall that there was a time when the commoners ate in a different hall than the noblemen, indicating that there was a time when there were hundreds of noblemen living and serving at Castle Black - and presumably at all the other castles.

The Seven Kingdoms are vast. If at one point it was a tradition that volunteers from any corner of the Seven Kingdoms took the black - and this was the case, once, just as today criminals from all the Seven Kingdoms are sent to the Wall - then the combined number of those volunteers taking the black in a single generation would add up to a rather high number.

I don't know how much it would take. I didn't give a precise number. But we do know that the 1,000 men the Watch has do a poor job at that. You might also recall that the Watch doesn't even have the resources and men to actually maintain the defenses atop the Wall, right? 

I agree with you about that. But that isn't the point. The point is that it is a fact that Watch survived as an institution for thousands of years and that only makes sense if it was an honored institution for most of the time, and institution that actually thrived more in times when the very idea that anybody would care about - during the Hundred Kingdoms period - maintaining an institution like that.

That makes only sense if the people of the Seven Kingdoms continued to believe in the Others and the threat they posed for most of the history of those kingdoms.

The wildlings are irrelevant. After the Conquest they might have become somewhat of a pretext for supporting the Watch considering that it was also the Iron Throne's duty to protect the northern borders of the Realm. After all, the wildligns were a real and tangible threat - although not really that much of a deal, under normal circumstances. But their existence certainly helped to justify why the Watch was not simply disbanded. 

But back before the Conquest the King of the Rock or the King of the Vale - especially during his wars with Winterfell - would have had no reason at all to allow his men to volunteer to protect the borders of another king - and his enemy at that - from some mortal brigands. If the people in the Westerlands and the Vale hadn't believed in the existence of the Others and the noble calling of the Night's Watch they simply wouldn't have joined the Watch. They would have stopped doing that millennia ago. 

Vice versa, there would have been no reason why the Starks or Boltons would allow any of their men to join the Watch back in the day the clansmen, Sea Dragon Point, the Umbers, etc. were still independent domains. Wildlings raiding those lands would have helped those kings to subdue and weaken their enemies.

In that sense, the entire Night's Watch thing only makes sense if the people believed in the threat of the Others. And that they did. Else there wouldn't have been either a Wall or a Night's Watch.

I disagree that the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch was ever more powerful than the Kings of Winter, the Rock, the Reach, the Storm King etc. That is never stated, nor implied.

The Watch is a garrison. It is not the full army that will fight an invasion of the Others. Should that occur, the armies of the Kings of Westeros would be marshalled in all their power. The Watch was simply the vanguard. The King of Winter sorted out the Night's King, the Kings of Winter brought down the various Kings Beyond the Wall, and Osha told Bran Robb should have marched his forces North instead of South at the start of this current war. Clearly the common assumption is that the Starks would be at the Wall in a heartbeat if any real threat reared its head. No need for 100,000 men being permanently fed to just hang around at the Wall.

It made no sense from a logistical or resource perspective to ever have tens of thousands of men permanantly garrisoning the Wall. Maybe there were more than 10,000 at times. And maybe there were less at other times. But I don't see a situation where more men manned the Wall than the entire North could raise under Torhenn Stark, for example.

The Watch are the sentries. But the whole of mankind would join them if a true Other invasion threatened again.

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43 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I disagree that the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch was ever more powerful than the Kings of Winter, the Rock, the Reach, the Storm King etc. That is never stated, nor implied.

That is pretty much implied by the basic fact that back in the days of the Long Night there were only a hundred - or more - petty kings in Westeros. The kings at Highgarden, Casterly Rock, Winterfell, etc. were petty kings among petty kings, nothing more, nothing less. And the Iron Throne doesn't have a standing army to this day. 

But the Night's Watch essentially is a standing army. It is a military order, strictly male, and all the sworn brothers of the Watch are expected to fight. Not all of them are elite fighters - rangers - but all are expected to fight.

And the Watch controlled the lands along the Wall - a hundred leagues - since its founding. At that time the Watch was much more powerful than several of those petty kings combined - and as standing fighting force they would have remained the most powerful force on the continent for centuries to come. The kings of the later Seven Kingdoms most likely were more powerful, technically, but one really wonders who would have won the day if an army of well-trained, well-equipped black brothers, receiving top recruits from all across the Seven Kingdoms would have challenged an Arryn, Stark, or Lannister army, say, five a millennium or 500 years before the Conquest.

I'd not put all that much money on the royal army in such a scenario.

43 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The Watch is a garrison. It is not the full army that will fight an invasion of the Others. Should that occur, the armies of the Kings of Westeros would be marshalled in all their power. The Watch was simply the vanguard.

That is never stated or implied. If that was the case then the Watch would be basically a huge waste of time. The point of this quasi-religious military order is to have a strong force of determined and capable fighting men to defend the realms of men against the common enemy of all. That's their entire purpose. The point of this order that's supported by all is to do what a hundred warring petty kings and lords could not possibly hope to do - to elect a common leader and assemble an army from all the many 'realms of men'.

If the Watch and its august mission was just guard duty at the border - it turned out to be just that because no one showed up - then the kings could have just sent some of their people to the Wall, stationed in various independent castles.

Not to mention, you know, the vow of the NW makes it pretty clear that they are not just sentries or a vanguard. They are the fighters who fight the good fight. The only fight that matters.

43 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The King of Winter sorted out the Night's King, the Kings of Winter brought down the various Kings Beyond the Wall, and Osha told Bran Robb should have marched his forces North instead of South at the start of this current war. Clearly the common assumption is that the Starks would be at the Wall in a heartbeat if any real threat reared its head. No need for 100,000 men being permanently fed to just hang around at the Wall.

The Night's King was a traitor to the Watch. In such circumstances people from the outside had to interfere, the same with the Kings-beyond-the-Wall - which strictly speaking weren't even something the Watch would have been concerned with, originally.

The Osha advice and the idea of the Starks defending the Wall themselves reflects the state of the NW as it is during the series. But that's not even remotely how it once was.

43 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

It made no sense from a logistical or resource perspective to ever have tens of thousands of men permanantly garrisoning the Wall. Maybe there were more than 10,000 at times. And maybe there were less at other times. But I don't see a situation where more men manned the Wall than the entire North could raise under Torhenn Stark, for example.

Well, but that's how things were. We don't know how many men fit into Castle Black - not the largest castle at the Wall - but we do know that there were 600 at Castle Black in AGoT - and most of the buildings at the place were empty. Jon chooses to sleep in an abandoned building where essentially no other brother lives. When Stannis camps with his army of about 1,200 men there, the place isn't bursting, either. Neither is it when the wildlings come through the Wall. There is no talk about Stannis' men camping out in the open, in tents or something like that.

Now, if we assumed that the average castle isn't even full when 1,000 men live there - then we would still have 19,000 men in the Watch if 1,000 men lived in each castle. If 2,000 men fit in the average castle we would have 38,000 men in the Watch, and so on. A castle like the Nightfort seems to have been built for twice or even thrice the number of men which can live at Castle Black.

If you look at it that way the Watch was already in vast decline during the Conquest. They would already have abandoned quite a few castles at that point.

As to the strength of the entire North in comparison to the Watch - we are comparing apples and oranges here. The Watch didn't live up there. It consists of men from all across the Seven Kingdoms who volunteered at one point in their life to join its ranks. The lived off the Gift(s), yes but they were sent up as an elite fighting force up there. In that sense they can in no way be compared to a scarcely populated area. They are more like densely populated area like a large city - Oldtown, KL, or Lannisport - which lives up the surrounding area, exploiting the peasants who feed them. Back in the ancient days the Gift(s) would have been full of people who gladly did everything they could to support the noble black brothers, enjoying their protection in return.

For millennia living in the shadow of the Wall would have been the safest place in all of Westeros. The Watch kept away the wildlings and no petty king or lord would have dared violating the territory of the Night's Watch. Not just because of their power at the time but simply because all of Westeros honored the NW and what they stood for and what they sacrificed for the common good.

43 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The Watch are the sentries. But the whole of mankind would join them if a true Other invasion threatened again.

That's how things turned out to be now. Because the Watch is a joke during the series. But that wasn't the vision of Brandon the Builder or whoever else founded the NW. They created them to fight and defeat the Others should they ever return.

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According records Sam finds, the current Night's Watch is stocked well better than they used to be. So some one recently at least, has been secretly supporting the Watch. Be it North or South, who knows

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Quote

 

A Dance with Dragons - Jon IV
In the granaries were oats and wheat and barley, and barrels of coarse ground flour. In the root cellars strings of onions and garlic dangled from the rafters, and bags of carrots, parsnips, radishes, and white and yellow turnips filled the shelves. One storeroom held wheels of cheese so large it took two men to move them. In the next, casks of salt beef, salt pork, salt mutton, and salt cod were stacked ten feet high. Three hundred hams and three thousand long black sausages hung from ceiling beams below the smokehouse. In the spice locker they found peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon, mustard seeds, coriander, sage and clary sage and parsley, blocks of salt. Elsewhere were casks of apples and pears, dried peas, dried figs, bags of walnuts, bags of chestnuts, bags of almonds, planks of dry smoked salmon, clay jars packed with olives in oil and sealed with wax. One storeroom offered potted hare, haunch of deer in honey, pickled cabbage, pickled beets, pickled onions, pickled eggs, and pickled herring.

 

Almost like some one had prepped the Watch for the Wildlings to fill their numbers.  

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8 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

That is pretty much implied by the basic fact that back in the days of the Long Night there were only a hundred - or more - petty kings in Westeros. The kings at Highgarden, Casterly Rock, Winterfell, etc. were petty kings among petty kings, nothing more, nothing less. And the Iron Throne doesn't have a standing army to this day. 

But the Night's Watch essentially is a standing army. It is a military order, strictly male, and all the sworn brothers of the Watch are expected to fight. Not all of them are elite fighters - rangers - but all are expected to fight.

And the Watch controlled the lands along the Wall - a hundred leagues - since its founding. At that time the Watch was much more powerful than several of those petty kings combined - and as standing fighting force they would have remained the most powerful force on the continent for centuries to come. The kings of the later Seven Kingdoms most likely were more powerful, technically, but one really wonders who would have won the day if an army of well-trained, well-equipped black brothers, receiving top recruits from all across the Seven Kingdoms would have challenged an Arryn, Stark, or Lannister army, say, five a millennium or 500 years before the Conquest.

I'd not put all that much money on the royal army in such a scenario.

That is never stated or implied. If that was the case then the Watch would be basically a huge waste of time. The point of this quasi-religious military order is to have a strong force of determined and capable fighting men to defend the realms of men against the common enemy of all. That's their entire purpose. The point of this order that's supported by all is to do what a hundred warring petty kings and lords could not possibly hope to do - to elect a common leader and assemble an army from all the many 'realms of men'.

If the Watch and its august mission was just guard duty at the border - it turned out to be just that because no one showed up - then the kings could have just sent some of their people to the Wall, stationed in various independent castles.

Not to mention, you know, the vow of the NW makes it pretty clear that they are not just sentries or a vanguard. They are the fighters who fight the good fight. The only fight that matters.

The Night's King was a traitor to the Watch. In such circumstances people from the outside had to interfere, the same with the Kings-beyond-the-Wall - which strictly speaking weren't even something the Watch would have been concerned with, originally.

The Osha advice and the idea of the Starks defending the Wall themselves reflects the state of the NW as it is during the series. But that's not even remotely how it once was.

Well, but that's how things were. We don't know how many men fit into Castle Black - not the largest castle at the Wall - but we do know that there were 600 at Castle Black in AGoT - and most of the buildings at the place were empty. Jon chooses to sleep in an abandoned building where essentially no other brother lives. When Stannis camps with his army of about 1,200 men there, the place isn't bursting, either. Neither is it when the wildlings come through the Wall. There is no talk about Stannis' men camping out in the open, in tents or something like that.

Now, if we assumed that the average castle isn't even full when 1,000 men live there - then we would still have 19,000 men in the Watch if 1,000 men lived in each castle. If 2,000 men fit in the average castle we would have 38,000 men in the Watch, and so on. A castle like the Nightfort seems to have been built for twice or even thrice the number of men which can live at Castle Black.

If you look at it that way the Watch was already in vast decline during the Conquest. They would already have abandoned quite a few castles at that point.

As to the strength of the entire North in comparison to the Watch - we are comparing apples and oranges here. The Watch didn't live up there. It consists of men from all across the Seven Kingdoms who volunteered at one point in their life to join its ranks. The lived off the Gift(s), yes but they were sent up as an elite fighting force up there. In that sense they can in no way be compared to a scarcely populated area. They are more like densely populated area like a large city - Oldtown, KL, or Lannisport - which lives up the surrounding area, exploiting the peasants who feed them. Back in the ancient days the Gift(s) would have been full of people who gladly did everything they could to support the noble black brothers, enjoying their protection in return.

For millennia living in the shadow of the Wall would have been the safest place in all of Westeros. The Watch kept away the wildlings and no petty king or lord would have dared violating the territory of the Night's Watch. Not just because of their power at the time but simply because all of Westeros honored the NW and what they stood for and what they sacrificed for the common good.

That's how things turned out to be now. Because the Watch is a joke during the series. But that wasn't the vision of Brandon the Builder or whoever else founded the NW. They created them to fight and defeat the Others should they ever return.

There are a few flaws in this argument.

To begin with, the whole idea that the Watch was more powerful than the King of Winter, for example. You refer to the time of the hundred petty kingdoms and how the Watch ruled the entire Gift back in the day, which might have been larger than the domain of the petty Stark Kings at the time, according to you.

What you overlook is the fact that the Watch was given the Gift by a Brandon Stark. Meaning that the King of Winter's domain had to stretch up to the Wall before he could donate the coldest, northernmost part of it to the Watch. So if he ruled all the way up to the Wall he ruled most of the North at that time. Clearly this was not Bran the Builder, as the Starks didn't rule that far North yet in his time, meaning the Watch didn't have the Gift until the Starks had conquered all that territory.

This ties in with the reality of the aftermath of the Long Night, which again you seem to overlook. The Watch didn't start out with a maximum number (say 100,000 as in your scenario), and then gradualy decline from that point onward. The Long Night had wiped out most of the population of Westeros. We don't even know if 100,000 able bodied men remained alive at that time in all of Westeros. I'm not saying there weren't that many, but I'm saying that the population would have been a fraction of what it is today, and even today supporting a standing army of 100,000 men would be all but impossible for the Iron Throne.

So the original Watch would have been tiny. Just like the original armies of the petty kings were tiny. The castles along the Wall, and the Wall itself would have grown gradually over time, as the population of Westeros recovered. But at the same time, the more time passed, the more distant the memory of the Others would have become. At some point the maximum Watch size would have been achieved, once the 18 original castles had been built. This was centuries or even millenia after the Long Night, once the Gift had also been granted to the Watch.

As for the size of the castles. Winterfell is massive. Is it manned to capacity all the time? Nope. It has a parmanent garrison of 200. Same with every other castle in Westeros. The size of the castle does not reflect its permanent garrison size.

In the end, the 1% rule indeed governs the logistical capabilty of a society to maintain an army. A standing army is no different. Westeros as a whole can today maintain maybe 400,000 men in the field, for a limited time - certainly not permanently. And Westeros today is far more advanced, with a far higher population, than Westeros during the Age of Heroes. To maintain a standing army of 100,000 or even 30,000, at the far end of the World, on top of their normal armies in their various kingdoms is simply not a convincing argument.

That's why I think 10,000 was likely the standing size of the Watch - with temporary fluctuations - for a long time. One wonders how any King Beyond the Wall was able to create any problems for the North in any case, if there were 10,000 men on the Wall for 7700 years. Mance Rayder himself was barely able to raise 10,000 poorly armoured and poorly disciplined warriors from the entire Wildling population. They were broken by a single charge of 1000 southron knights.

WIth 10,000 men on the Wall no wildling King could have presented much of a challenge to Westeros during the Age of Heroes. And yet they did. Telling me that the Watch was not always as strong as it was during Aegon's Conquest, let alone having a strength of 20,000 or 30,000.

My assessment is a target standing strength of 10,000, which varied over time by maybe 50% or so. In some centuries it may have been down to 5,000 and in others maybe up to 15,000. But even that starts looking extreme.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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